Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-5
William Shakespeare had a tremendous grasp of life and human nature. “When sorrows come,” he wrote, “they come not single file but in battalions.” My mother used to say, “When it rains, it pours!” meaning essentially the same thing. Nobody apart from a sadistic individual intent on self-destruction would purposely choose to punish himself by bringing difficulty or pain into his life. It just happens, often unexpectedly and without warning. The phone rings in the middle of the night. It’s bad news. Your job plays out on you, the one you thought would take you to retirement. Your daughter at college lobs a hand-grenade, letting you know that she’s dropping out of school to marry the young man who has no job. You are confronted with a malpractice suit at the very time you have paid off your school debt, and often one difficulty follows another as surely as the moon and the sun.
No, of course, you didn’t ask for it, but you do ask, “What did I do to deserve this special treatment?” You are experiencing what the Bible calls “tribulation,” but you are thinking, “Save that for the end times!” No, it’s part of living in an imperfect, broken world now. “In the world,” said Jesus to His disciples, letting them know something very important just before He faced the cross, “you will have tribulation” – something you have come to understand.
The Greek word which is usually translated “tribulation” is better understood in the context of stress or pressure today. It literally means “a compressed or narrow way,” and when that applies to you, the compression produces stress which you certainly didn’t ask for but neither can you avoid.
Writing to Roman Christians who had already begun to feel the heel of persecution, knowing that the security of their world could cave in at the whim of a minor government official, Paul said that tribulation produces patience, or “perseverance,” as newer translations put it. When Jesus talked to the disciples about tribulation or stress, he linked our troubles, strange as it may seem, to joy. He said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, KJV).
The Greek word translated “patience” is a combination of two words which literally mean, “to remain under” something; hence, difficulty or stress which you cope with, asking God’s help, knowing that Christ has been there and fully understands, produces “staying power.” Simply put, you hang in there and neither turn and run nor blow up in the face of adversity.
There is something of a silver lining to the dark clouds of life which come to us. It is that we learn both our strengths, the staying power which we didn’t really know we had, and our weaknesses – which can be rather frightening. But we also experience God’s sustaining help in ways we would never, ever know apart from those dark nights of the soul.
When you are weak, then you are strong, and when you feel you can’t go a step further, God sends someone—an angel in disguise, a friend who you never knew could be such a help, or a word of encouragement through His Word – and you face the day.
A closing thought. Before Jesus so boldly informed the disciples that they would face difficulty or pressure, he said that He was telling them these things so they might have peace. If you’ve never read the fine print, do so. You will find it in John 16, where Jesus promised His abiding strength and presence in the times of storm.
It is true: Into every life some rain must fall, but the rain brings the spring flowers and the color drives away the gray landscape of difficulty.
Resource reading: John 16:30-33